For years, analysts have been looking at the construction and agriculture industries to see if the two industries can learn from each other to make each safer for their workers. Agriculture and construction face similar challenges. They share a reputation of being conservative, slow to adopt new technologies which means that both lag behind many other industries when it comes to efficiency, productivity and sustainability.
However, over recent years, construction has taken a massive leap forward in the area of safety and, while the industry remains the third most dangerous in the UK, it is the most improved.
No guesses for which industry continues to have the poorest safety record?
With all those improvements contributing to fewer fatal injuries in the construction sector, one area where there continues to be heightened concern and that is poor mental health and, in particular suicide. According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, there is a higher rate of suicide among men working in construction than any other industry. This is why Mates in Mind charity was founded in 2016 to improve their workforces’ mental health.
As part of the Health & Safety Executive’s fantastic ‘Working Minds’ campaign, we had the chance to work along side Sarah Meek, Managing Director of Mates in Mind, a charity set up to support – initially – mental health in the construction industry which has now expanded to include Transport & Logistics, SMEs and apprentices. We asked her about the work they are doing in the construction sector and what we could learn from each other…
So how poor mental health is affecting the construction industry right now?
“More people are talking about mental health and aware of starting conversations. However, there is still a strong focus on the safety net of support once a person reaches crisis, rather than seeing this as a holistic model which includes prevention of the issues, early identification and signposting to support. We have seen some companies really embracing a new approach to mental health across their team and wider supply chain, but this is not yet consistent across the industry and needs to have a level footing with safety when considering health and safety as a whole.”
There have always been comparisons made between construction and agriculture – is there anything we can learn from what construction has done to support those working in the industry?
“Absolutely. Particularly when considering how we support sole traders and drivers within the transport and logistics industry. It is really important to spot the signs of stress and declining mental health in ourselves and others and know how to start the conversation. You don’t need to have the answers or solve the problem, but listening without judgement and supporting someone is the first step. Our new anonymous text support service available 24/7 will help those who perhaps feel more isolated and want to share their personal situation and be in contact with someone through text.”
Unlike many of our farming charities who deal directly with the individual seeking support, Mates in Mind works with the employer to provide the skills, clarity and confidence to raise awareness, improve understanding and address the stigma that surrounds mental health.
The business signs up for a three-year programme which start with an assessment to find out what is in place already and works with the employer to address the gaps in mental health and wellbeing. They provide awareness material to share with colleagues and recommend a general ‘Start the Conversation’ session to ensure everyone begins to think about mental health prior to working with line managers and supervisors.
And, like the team here at the Farm Safety Foundation, Mates In Mind support college and university students to make a successful transition from classroom to workplace and make them aware of how important their mental health is.
One of the key differences between farming and construction has always been that you can be on a building site with countless other workers so you are never really alone whereas, rural isolation is a big challenge for farming. Farmers can be working alone for up to 16 hours a day. How would you suggest we tackle this issue?
Sarah suggests: “Working with our colleagues in transport and logistics, who often can be the only visitors to the farms, let’s work together to support one another, to start conversations and ask how someone is doing. If you are concerned, ask twice and remember you do not have to have the solution, just listen.”
And what would you advise someone who may be reading this and struggling right now?
“My advice would be …. Be Brave.
I know it can feel like a big step to admit you are in a difficult place. Know that taking this first move whether in person or by text does make things better and you are not alone and don’t have to try and solve things by yourself.”
For more information on Mates In Mind visit www.matesinmind.org
If you or someone you know needs help, please CLICK HERE to access the Little Book of Minding Your Head – The book contains the contact details and hours of opening of many of the UK’s farming charities and rural support groups.
If you, or someone you are with feels overwhelmed by thoughts of not wanting to live or having urges to attempt suicide, get help NOW. Call a suicide hotline.
Samaritans 116 123
NHS Emergency 999
Papyrus HOPELINEUK 0800 068 4141
Text ‘Beamate’ to 85258